Board of Ancestors| Anna J Cooper + The Relationship between Our Reasoning, Feelings, Actions, and Education

Reflections on Anna J. Cooper’s Educational Philosophy on reason, emotions and action.

Born a slave, Anna Julia Haywood Cooper lived to be 105. She became the fourth African American woman to earn a doctoral degree, earning a PhD in history from the University of Paris-Sorbonne. She rose to prominence as a member of the Black community in Washington, D.C., where she served as principal at M Street High School, during which time she wrote A Voice from the South.

Anna Julia Cooper’s education philosophy centers on the importance of empathy. In the context of education and society more broadly, Cooper discusses the role of “feeling” being an improvement to educational quality rather than a handicap. This directly contrasts the western philosophy of education at the time, which only valued “strict empirical” thought. The most striking part of her argument for feeling is that its not attempt to contradict reason, but offer a more holistic depiction of truth.

Her philosophy parallels keep tenets of modern social emotional learning pedagogy, mostly practiced in progressive K-12 schools, and more so now college classrooms where students aren’t often “seen” or feel included. Empathy is cited as a key driver in both STEM learning and liberal arts, measures of empathy are common place in workplace assessments and Cooper’s ideas of emotions and truth are again finding a place in our data-informed society.

In my opinion, Cooper’s definition of feeling is less about emotional affect, and more about employing empathy in our academic and intellectual exercises. Cooper argues that empathy, the concept of walking in the footsteps of others when assessing those groups, is key to unlocking true knowledge. Additionally, Cooper sees the indirect and direct oppression of women’s rights, particularly around education as a grave mismanagement of the country’s greatest resource. She believes that women and feminine minds hold the reciprocal half of the male intellect. She emphasizes the woman’s role in instilling kindness, and empathy, which are key traits for fully understanding the world beyond what you are taught in books or by lecture.

A voice from the South is a collection of essays (1891), a statement of black feminist thought in the nineteenth century, and is considered to be one of the original texts of the black feminist movement.
Reflections based on Anna J. Cooper’s A Voice from the South.

These terms are a bit reductionist to discussions of identity, at the same time, Cooper views feeling as the lens through which we interpret information, conjure our reasoning and justify our actions. On a more macro scale, feeling is what allows us to speak truthfully, as were not attempting to write about the status quo, or sell an idea.

I support the idea that students should learn to be emotionally aware as well as intellectually aware. According to Cooper empathy and intellect are two parts of a whole that makes up a well natured human. I see these two schemas of understanding, analytical intelligence and emotional intelligence, foundational to how I’ve approached educating, how I experience life, and in how I live out my life as a life long learner.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: